Upstate but feeling low

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Lately I’ve been realizing how in statis I’ve been. Like an animal keeping its metabolism slow so that it can conserve calories. It’s tiring in it’s own way.

I wrote a bit about this on Instagram and here’s part of it.

“I feel untethered, but it’s hard to tether yourself to anything when you’re in a state of preparing, however slowly, to leave. I want to be making big loud friendships with complicated amazing people, and I want to be social and look outside my box, but it’s hard not to feel duplicitous building relationships that likely won’t last or gain the beautiful layers of depth that many do only after lots of time. I guess moving every two years like clockwork is catching up to me a bit.”

Tonight after expressing these feelings, I came home and made a risotto with chanterelle mushrooms, had a glass of wine, and currently have a face mask on. Laundry is in the dryer, dishes are done, work is over, and life is moving along in the clunky but regular way it is right now. I get to look back on beautiful photos like the ones above that show quiet, sunny days in Upstate New York of spiderwebs, marble topped dressers a hundred years old, and oil-based skincare that I talked about in my previous post.

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A little routine.

There is already snow in large parts of Montana and it’s awful. I am trying to get ready for the cold, the dry air, the static-y hair and all the things that go along with winter. In the meantime, the brief Montana autumn is in full swing.

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This summer has been about things that feel luxurious, work well, and are affordable. As one of those lucky wenches who only gets acne around the end of my cycle, I really only needed to find products that hydrated and brightened my skin, and being on a budget, I searched for a while before I decided on some things, and after several months these four things have made their way and stayed in my routine.

I don’t have the money to experiment a whole lot, mostly just with masks, and these are pretty well-known, respected products, and they did what they were supposed to. My personal favorite is the Mizon ampoule, which feels luxurious, has no smell, and comes in a lovely little glass bottle that feels much fancier than the price tag. This has lasted me three months and I need to buy another! The Ordinary products are all the rage and some of them work and others don’t. These two products feel good and definitely have brightened my skin, and they’re going to last me a long time- I apply them and switch them out about every other night before my final moisturizer and I’ve barely made a dent and it’s been almost three months since I’ve had them. Last but not least is the notorious Pixi Glow Tonic which does exactly what it’s known for. It gives my skin the perfect canvas to apply serums, ampoules, etc. and it makes my skin happy.

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I feel a bit pretentious talking about my skin but as somebody on a budget, it feels neat to find things that have done what I’ve wanted and haven’t disappeared too quickly despite regular use. I love that they’re mostly in glass and it feels really lovely to be a little luxurious before bed and when I wake up and treat my skin right. Do you have any routines, products, or habits that make you feel a bit elevated?

I’m going to Brazil in a few months and I’m trying to figure out what to bring there, where the humidity and unrelenting heat will be very different for my skin than the dry, cold air that has settled in Montana. We shall see.

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Missoula in early autumn is something else.

The park begins to get tinged in yellow and the lightest shades of orange. The students are back and the bars become busy and crowded. But mornings remain quiet, private, and beautiful. Sometimes I get up even earlier than normal so I can go have a cup of coffee and watch the sun touch the world.

One year ago and other memories.

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A little over a year ago I entered a room on the third floor of the building where I took a majority of my courses and spent many hours on campus, utterly terrified, holding my personal copy of the thesis that had occupied and been the point of two years of academic research, drafts, edits, feedback, and stress.

I don’t remember much of my thesis defense. I remember that many people came and that my family and friends and classmates being there meant so much. I remember that some of the questions were quietly brutal, but that my thesis stood up to criticism well because it was thorough and thoughtful. I remember feeling gratitude for my thesis supervisor for her eagle eyes and brilliant mind, who took me on and helped me take a woman’s enormous life and help make her story into something manageable.

The weekend there was far too short. I was inundated with the want to do everything- eat at Pho Vy, drink coffee at Habit, go to the graveyard, take my family to the tiny sushi place that I treasured so much. I remember crying on the ferry that took me away from Canada, wondering when I’d be back.

I miss that city so much.

Snails and serums

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Current favorites! My skin feels and looks healthier than it has been in some time. I’m not patient enough to try things for a long time, if they don’t do something in a week or two it’s not going to stay in my repertoire. These Elensilia masks are affordable and feel great- I want to try their other mask formula next! I can’t afford to use these more than 2x a week or so. The Pearlessence serum is something I found at TJMaxx and it’s actually working pretty well- I was super dubious, but the formula isn’t sticky, soaks in well, and does make my skin look more luminous. The Mizon Snail Repair Ampoule is something that’s been on my list to purchase for over a year, and I’m damn happy. The little brown glass bottle feels so sleek and the formula is amazing. My skin looks and feels great, and the elaborate ritual of using multiple products before bed and when I wake up is relaxing. It’s just me now, and so I’ve got all the time in the world and a bathroom to myself. May as well fill it with little bottles of things.

This is me dipping my toe in the skincare pool. It’s something!

 

“I’m so mean.” “Mean is okay.”

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Lately I’ve felt the need to do comfy, safe things, like read and stay inside and watch movies. Lost in Translation will always be like an old friend to me. It reminds me a little of parts of my life. I met Logan due to happenstance and our first encounters were, for me, jolting and confusing and awkward, and when we parted after a few days I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Something about this movie speaks to the randomness of the world, the painful reality of being human, and how you can meet the most important people at the weirdest times,

Violence All Around

I was ten years old when September 11 happened. I was at home and my parents wouldn’t let me into the living room, but stood in front of the television, not able to take us to school or peel themselves away from the terrible scene in front of them. My parents both grew up on the East Coast, going in and out of New York for fun as teens, and my sister and I had been in the city days before the attack.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch director, discusses 9/11, the world long before, right before, and after this incident. He discusses the blundering, the linguistic inventions of new terms for failure by the Bush administration, the use of terrible intelligence, and the way the US took an attack and fucked up our response royally (in one memorable scene, his colleague on the ground in Baghdad calls and reports that the US has “no plan” after invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. As a cynical historian, this was not surprising.) He also muses on the nature of violence, from the Christian crusades to the misinterpretation of Gandhi’s use of non-violence, to the inherent reality of violence present in our lives, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. As somebody who was actually present in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland, Thailand, and other places of human rights atrocities and fuck-ups before and after 9/11, his point of view is not jaded, nor arrogant, but tempered, pragmatic, and beautifully written. As an American who grew up while the news blared updates of our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, the billions of dollars wasted, the innocent lives killed by soldiers, drones, and other weapons, I fell into this compact but exquisite book and loved it.

6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

Phone diary from July

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Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.

Sensitive skin + eczema: Treatment, support, and questions.

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“You been in some fights lately?” a stranger joked as they saw my hands one summer. They were raw, cracked, bleeding, and red. It was summer, too hot for long sleeves, and I weakly joked that yes, I had been brawling.

This was not entirely false- my body and I were indeed at odds with one another. Eczema, which had affected me as a child, went away until I became a stressed-out college student. It mostly stayed on my arms, though, and I accepted its presence as a bother, nothing more.

However, around 2015, my hands were a mess and I struggled with embarrassment and confusion. This was a new, awful form of eczema, replete with tiny clusters of blisters, insanely itchy skin, cracked and bleeding parts, and overall, extreme physical discomfort. I couldn’t do dishes, handle any acidic foods, or do much that would exacerbate my skin.  I found out that I had gotten one lovely variety of eczema that affects solely hands and feet- JOY.

It’s 2018, and I have, for the most part, found peace and (mostly) respite from my eczema. It’s been on my face, made me nervous for dates, kept me sleepless from itching, offered me up to public humiliation, and made me feel ugly and undesirable. I made this post to show affordable products that help me immensely, answer some basic questions, and offer some links I’ve found both helpful and supportive.

The low down: 

Eczema is basically your body’s inability to produce it’s own protective layer over your skin. This results in vulnerable, rashy, often raw skin. Sometimes it’s mild and just a small patch of dry, red skin and sometimes it can take over your body- everybody is different. It affects 30 million Americans, and there are multiple kinds. I have atopic dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema.

Eczema is a mysterious bastard, and people don’t know exactly why we get it. It’s been theorized it’s an immune reaction or an allergic reaction, but why and how we get it is unsure. People in polluted areas and cities get it more, and people who have other immune issues like asthma also have eczema, and it could also be genetic! So basically…it could be anything, everything, or nothing at all. Trust me, I know this isn’t helpful.

First and foremost if you suspect you might have eczema go to a dermatologist. A good one! They might take photos of your eczema to track any changes, and they can help you find medicine that will work with your lifestyle and the severity of your eczema. If your derm isn’t taking you seriously, tries to put you on steroid creams or steroids over and over again, find somebody who makes you feel heard.

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Products/things I use and love that help: 

-Vitamin D, Vitamin C, fish oil, and Vitamin E supplements. There is some evidence that taking vitamins that help build your skin’s resilience can help with eczema. Your skin is always trying to heal and repair itself and these vitamins may help your body do that. I figure it can’t hurt.

-AQUAPHOR!!! Aquaphor is my favorite thing. Lotion can hurt raw skin, and one thing that eczema needs is protection. I apply Aquaphor to all my patches- on my face, my hands, my arms, where ever. I may apply bandages over the Aquaphor so it can work better. It isn’t a lotion- it’s a cheap but amazing ointment that you can find at any drugstore for around $5. (It also makes an amazing lip balm!) It’s also super safe around your eyes if you’ve got anything there! This is my number one thing in my life, and I don’t know what I would do without it.

-BandAids for protecting my hands. Cheap, easy, and effective. They can help any especially raw parts heal. I do not use antibiotic creams at all, and only use Aquaphor  to protect my skin.

-ProTopic prescription ointment. This is a non-steroid cream that I use only in extreme cases because it burns a lot. I do not use steroid cream because long term use of steroid creams can make your skin thin, sometimes permanently. Since I have had eczema for years and it hasn’t gone away, I got my derm to prescribe me this. There is also a children’s version that has less of the working ingredients to be sensitive to their bodies.

-Aveeno lotion. Aveeno, I find, makes great sensitive-skin lotions. I also adore their baby lotions and bath products, because the ingredients are so gentle. I use this on my hands as soon as I wake up and before I go to bed, and keep a little tube in my work desk and in my car.

-Scent-free and dye-free laundry detergent. If you have ultra-sensitive skin, your sheets and bedding and pillow cases can also aggravate whatever is going on. Using a sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent is huge! I use some from my natural food bulk store, but Arm & Hammer also makes a detergent I really like.

Aveeno Baby oatmeal bath packets. These are affordable and amazing. Oatmeal helps calm the itch and a warm (not hot!) bath is amazing for relaxing. Oatmeal baths helped me as a child, too, when I couldn’t sleep.

-Lukewarm/cool showers.  Hot water strips your skin of protection and will exacerbate your eczema a lot! If you can’t help but take hot showers, make them short. Get out quickly.

-Gloves for doing dishes and yardwork. These will help protect your hands, which can be areas prone to eczema and irritation. They have saved me, as hot water doing dishes a lot made my hands not only painful but also made my eczema never seem to go away.

As you can see, I use mostly affordable products that after years of experimentation work for me. Everybody is different. It can take time, so be patient and gentle with yourself.

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What about diet? 

There are some theories that eczema, and some other immune issues, may be caused by gut bacteria abscence or imbalance. I don’t know if I buy these 100% (you can find out more online) but I did find that when I consistently ate probiotic foods, avoided sugar, and ate healthier, my eczema was more manageable. That being said, is that real? Or was it placebo effect? I can’t say. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it did help.

What about (insert other treatment here-wet wrapping, pine tar, bleach baths, etc.) 

I don’t know about anything else, but there is a super helpful sub-Reddit for eczema sufferers where you can ask questions, get feedback, and swap stories. It has not only been an immense source of support, but I’ve also answered lots of questions with my own experiences. If you’re new to everything, also look for answers here at the National Eczema Association. The Internet is one of the most helpful and supportive places I’ve ever found, and lots of people who may feel shy sharing their stories in person are more than happy to help you figure out things like how to help your children if they’ve got eczema, what if your girlfriend/boyfriend/person has eczema, how different meds have helped different people, etc.

What if my girlfriend/boyfriend/child gets diagnosed? 

If you’re asking this question at all that’s a great sign. Do your own research and quietly help your person make changes if they’re an adult. Maybe buy some products on your own as a quiet “I see you” gift- Aquaphor, lotions, oatmeal bath packets, sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent, etc. and check in with your person if they’re seeing doctors. If you’ve got a child, oatmeal baths and doctors visits may become the norm. There are lots of resources for parents online. I know my parents had a tough time, but ProTopic helped me a lot when I was little.

Secondly, eczema can make your person feel very unsexy. Be gentle, kind, and especially loving. Our body is pretty much betraying us and giving us ugly lizard skin, and it sucks. Let us know we’re still cute, okay?

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll probably update this as time goes on, but please don’t hesitate to leave questions or comments. I’ve had eczema for years, and it’s impacted my life, but it’s something that can be managed and accepted and you’re definitely not alone.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

Stony Creek Cabin

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Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

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3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

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In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

A long goodbye.

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Tomorrow morning I take Logan to the airport and we will not see one another for about six months. He will fly home to Brazil.

Saying goodbye for this long has made me neglect many things. I’ve been coveting our time together, because I need to store up memories for the long separation. Books go unread, blog posts go un-posted, photographs unedited. Film sits at the photography shop, developed and all set in nice little rows for me to scan, but even the effort of going and getting that, rather than spending time with my person, feels weird. I will get it Thursday when Logan is safely home.

He is going home partially because there are no real immigration routes for him here in America (which is ridiculous for many reasons), and partially because it has been seven years away from home and it is simply time. Time to be around family, friends, his brother, to be a Brazilian again and forget some English, to hear parrots being rude out on the front porch and loathe the heat and listen to cicadas at night and go to fishing holes where coatis gather.

I will be here, working and saving money, missing him and remembering what it is to be alone, looking for the perfect flight to go see him. Living with somebody naturally blends and bleeds edges of yourself with that person, and I am excited to find out my own boundaries, habits, and other things for a little bit. To go by myself and read a book with a glass of wine, do my nighttime wanderings which I haven’t done, pick up too many library books and spend time taking photographs of things that aren’t him. It’s going to be very hard.